Most entrepreneurs recognize that social media is one of the best ways to spread the word about new products, exciting innovations, and hot new trends that affect their brands and industries. And it’s no secret that Instagram is one of the most popular social media avenues around. With hundreds of millions of daily users and an appealingly simple, image-dominant platform, Instagram is popular among Generation Z, the baby boomers, and everyone in between.
Hashtags and handles make it easy to target the audiences that matter most. Yet for cannabis entrepreneurs, harnessing the marketing powers of Instagram isn’t as easy as it is for other businesses, since, like tobacco and alcohol merchants, cannabis entrepreneurs face advertising restrictions dictated by the federal government.
Today’s cannabis entrepreneurs must be savvy and creative – but it is possible to spread the news of your cannabis brand to interested users on Instagram and beyond. By using carefully crafted organic content, influencer partnerships, and other shrewd tactics, cannabis entrepreneurs can shape a unique and lasting presence on Instagram.
Instagram is rooted in stories told visually – and stories often elicit an emotional response in their listeners. On Instagram, a narrative told visually will capture your users’ hearts – not just their minds. Plus, studies reveal that content enhanced with images earns nearly a hundred percent more views than content based around text alone. Neil Patel, named by the Wall Street Journal as a top influencer on the web, points out that more than half of the population learns visually – and nearly ninety percent of information that reaches the brain arrives in the form of imagery. Images, therefore, are one of the best ways to characterize your brand, impart an emotional impact, set your business apart from the competition, and boost traffic to your site.
Instagram’s unique platform also empowers ordinary people to become influencers – modern-day ambassadors for your brand. Enlisting the help of influencers means you’re not the only one marketing your company’s offerings—Instagram users with scores of followers are doing that work for you, posting about your brand to their admirers far and wide.
Best of all, Instagram seems to cultivate a creativity that’s contagious. Whether you’re scouting out the competition or just seeking out hot new trends in your industry, Instagram is usually the best place for information, advice, and inspiration. Beyond simply creating a space for your own brand on Instagram, it pays to ask yourself questions every time you browse: What are other brands doing to attract customers, promote their services, and tell a unique story? How can I use those strategies to strengthen my own position online?
The Nitty-Gritty: Rules and Regulations
Cannabis entrepreneurs have bemoaned Instagram’s lack of clarity with regards to cannabis-based content. Instagram simply tells users that “buying or selling […] illegal or prescription drugs (even if it’s legal in your region) is also not allowed.” Users are reminded to “always follow the law when offering to sell or buy other regulated goods” – but the guidelines surrounding cannabis promotion end there.
Technically, users are permitted to post marijuana-related content, and even advocate for marijuana use – but they are not allowed to promote the sale of cannabis itself. Instagram representative Alex Kucharski has claimed that “we try to enforce our policies as consistently as possible,” but added that “our team processes millions of reports each week, and sometimes we get things wrong.” Ambiguous regulations frustrate cannabis legalization activists, dispensary owners, and regular users, who often feel like their brand is at the mercy of a nameless, faceless, censor.
How to Do it Right
The smartest way to approach Instagram as a cannabis entrepreneur is to embrace the cannabis lifestyle – not merely the product itself. Successful cannabis Instagram accounts find creative ways to circumvent guidelines – including populating their feeds with humorous memes, eye-catching visuals, and even images of luxury brands enhanced by cannabis-related touches. Ideally, your feed should be comprised of very few – if any – overt cannabis posts. Consider this: @weedhumor, one of Instagram’s most popular cannabis accounts, shares cannabis-related content all the time – but explicit cannabis posts comprise less than one percent of their total content.
Make Friends with an Influencer
Influencer marketing has gained increasing attention over the years, since influencers can expand a brand’s reach by hundreds of thousands of viewers. Influencers are folks who have earned the fascination of thousands, if not millions, of followers – and now they’re using their presence to promote other brands. Organic modern marketing starts with the influencer, who can introduce your brand to new audiences already inclined to appreciate it.
The role of the influencer is multilayered, explains James Lange, a drug-use researcher at San Diego State University. “[Influencers] appear to be getting products for free from various shops,” Lange says, “and doing reviews and giveaways.”
Influencers aren’t above the law, either, since posting content that could encourage drug use is against most social media sites’ terms of service. Inconsistent regulation means many users remain in the dark about what’s allowed and what’s against the rules – but for most cannabis entrepreneurs, influencers remain a marketing force to be reckoned with. With the help of the right influencer, you can build your brand’s presence, amplify your following, and differentiate your brand from the competition.
The Bottom Line
Social media poses challenges to cannabis entrepreneurs looking to make a splash – but creative strategies can help those marketers to avoid run-ins with the law. Earned marketing strategies, like enlisting the right influencer, and organic strategies, like posting content that celebrates a lifestyle, not a product, can help you to stand out on Instagram without negative consequences. As cannabis legalization expands to include more and more U.S. states – and more countries around the world, too – we’re bound to see a shift in regulatory policies, and in marketing tactics, too. In the meantime, don’t overlook the power of Instagram to expand and enhance your brand – just do your best to ensure you’re playing by the rules.
MJShareholders.com is the largest dedicated financial network and leading corporate communications firm serving the legal cannabis industry. Our network aims to connect public marijuana companies with these focused cannabis audiences across the US and Canada that are critical for growth: Short and long term cannabis investors Active funding sources Mainstream media Business leaders Cannabis consumers